By Caty Davis
How do you find the light amidst all the darkness? Own your truth, know you are capable of overcoming and be a message of hope. Repeat.
I grew up a child of divorce, the daughter of an addict and the survivor of a parent’s suicide. My truth.
I was 4 years old when my parents divorced. My dad had struggled with an alcohol and a prescription opioid addiction for many years. Throughout my childhood, my dad wasn’t around very much. I thought that my dad chose drugs over me. Time after time for years, his ever-empty chair at my recitals, games and ceremonies was a source of constant disappointment. It led to self-blame, guilt and a lack of confidence and self-worth. Other than inside my house, family problems with addiction and painkillers were not openly discussed. My days in middle and high school were focused on hiding and being ashamed of my truth—not owning it.
Obstacles have been part of my Miss Tennessee fairytale. I am capable.
I never met my grandfather. He was an alcoholic and died in a drunk-driving accident when my dad was 14 years old. My half-brother had a problem with alcohol and opioids, and he committed suicide when he was 23 years old. I was 17. By then, my father had been in and out of rehab four times.
Two years later, I had just finished my freshman year of college at UT Knoxville when a police officer knocked on my door. He came to tell me, as the next of kin, that my father had taken his own life.
I was just broken. My father had been self-medicating for years. I mourned him and the loss of our future relationship—the one I had never given up on and believed would still happen one day. For a long time, I blamed myself and felt such guilt and embarrassment. Could I have helped him somehow? If I had done something different, would he still be alive? I knew that none of the answers to those questions would have changed the outcome, but they still had to be asked.
Addiction plagued three generations of my family. This devastating cycle ended with me.
During my year as Miss Tennessee, I have traveled more than 80,000 miles. I entered the hallways of more than 150 schools and spoke to more than 50,000 students across the state of Tennessee. I have shared my story of overcoming obstacles, family addiction and suicide. The Miss America Organization gave me a much louder voice and an opportunity to empower others.
The mindset that opioid addiction could never happen to you or your loved ones is simply not true. According to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, about 70,000 Tennesseans are addicted to opioids. Addiction does not discriminate. Some of the most addictive and deadly substances are right in your family medicine cabinet. Don’t be an accidental drug dealer.
Caty Davis, Knoxville ’17, serves as Miss Tennessee 2017. She promotes awareness of and raises funds for substance abuse prevention and treatment across the state.